Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

The London Olympics Most Memorable Plastics Technology

An earlier post here described five examples of plastics technology at the recently concluded London Olympics. There were many more than five, and after watching as much of the Games as I could, two other examples of plastics tech  stood out as noteworthy.

A double amputee from infancy, Oscar Pistorius is the first disadvantaged athlete to run at the Olympic Games.

Oscar Pistorius represented the Republic of South Africa in the 400-meter run, and though he only reached the semifinals, he set a record that will stand forever. A double amputee from the knees down, he will forever be the first disabled athlete to compete in the Olympics.

Pistorius uses prosthetics that have earned him the nickname Blade Runner. He doesn’t particularly like that title, but the J-shaped Cheetah prosthetics do resemble blades. The prosthetics, according to their manufacturer, the Iceland-based global orthopedics supplier Össur, are made of carbon fiber. There is a relatively expensive technology known as “carbon-on-carbon,” but the Cheetah more than likely is made of carbon-fiber-reinforced-plastic (CFRP), with the plastic as a matrix to hold the carbon fibers in the

desired shape.

Named one of the world’s most innovative companies earlier this year by Fast Company magazine, Össur individually designs these and other types of prosthetics to fit the specific person, in this case an athlete. Composite technology allows varying the thickness of the carbon fibers in various places to suit the weight and other aspects of the wearer. Among its core technologies, Össur lists plastics specialties such as silicone and injection molding, in addition to carbon fiber composites. Pistorius is  a spokesman for Össur.

South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius is shown at Össur Americas’ California facility.

He worked for years to run the qualifying time for the Olympics and to overcome a ban against him participating because it was thought the Cheetah prosthetics gave him an advantage. In May 2008 — too late for the Beijing games — the Court of Arbitration for Sport struck down the ban, convinced the prosthetics conferred no real advantage.

After running  the 400-meter qualifying time for the London games, Pistorius finally was allowed to make his Olympic debut in London, and it was a major sensation. Although he did not qualify for the 400-meter finals, it’s fair to say that more eyes were on him than on the runners ahead of him in his qualifying and semifinal runs. The visual is somewhat surreal, and Pistorius the runner is flat-out fast.

Speaking of attracting eyes, the organizers of the London Games intended that the Olympic Stadium would be the focal point for the big event. Considering how often  TV broadcasters featured its unique shape and brilliant lights from the air and ground level, the organizers achieved their goal. As it happens, a major part of the credit for the stadium’s brilliant success belongs to the Dow Chemical Company.

Olympic Stadium London

25-meter tall panels supplied by Dow Chemical wrapped the Olympic Stadium in London.

Early in 2011, which was already  rather late in the Olympic preparations, the original design for wrapping the Olympic Stadium had to be abandoned for cost reasons. Another solution, on budget and also sensational, was needed in a hurry. Following a demanding procurement process, Dow’s proposal was selected.

Dow’s approved solution was 336 individual textile panels, each about 25 meters high by 2.5 meters wide, reaching from the concourse level to the upper tier of the stadium and sporting more than 50 official “Colors of the Games” as specified by the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG).  Dow used its latest generation elastomers to create an innovative and inspirational solution — on time and on budget.

The textile is a lightweight polyester fabric with a polyolefin-based coating that provides good printability and fire protection. Critically, the panels meet LOCOG’s stringent sustainability standards. To make it happen, Dow quickly assembled a collaborative supply chain that included: stadium architect Populous, the Cooley Group for manufacturing, Rainier for fabrication, and Shade Worldwide for installation.

Recycle bins at London Olympics made of Dow resins

Besides the panels wrapping the Olympic Stadium (background), Dow supplied the resin for  recycling bins used at more than 30 Olympic venues.

Dow’s sustainability efforts are numerous. The total wrap system, including steel cables and fixtures, is less than half of one percent of the stadium’s total carbon footprint. Dow partnered with the UK building and development charity Article 25 and Axion Recycling to repurpose the entire stadium wrap when the Olympics and Paralympics are done. Result: Dow’s textile wrap panels are going to recycling and reuse projects in the UK, and as shelter solutions for at-risk children in Uganda and Rio de Janeiro, site of the 2016 Summer Olympics and Paralympics.

As the Official Chemistry Company of the Olympic Games, Dow completed many projects for the London event, such as: Supplying the adhesive critical to the safe high performance surface of the running track in Olympic Stadium; Using Dowlex polyethylene resins to create the artificial grass of the field hockey playing surface in vivid blue with a pink border; Designing, producing, and installing the resin flooring at the site of the training pools for aquatics athletes using its epoxy materials with low volatile organic compounds (VOCs); and supplying the resin for the 3,600 litter and recycling bins positioned across more than 30 Olympic venues. The bins also meet LOCOG’s legacy specifications, as they will be sold and reused at future events across the UK.

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One Response to “The London Olympics Most Memorable Plastics Technology”

  1. Nothing short of amazing!